by Carl L. Biemiller,
edited by C. J. Carnahan and Eric Biemiller

lightning Copyright © 2005 by Eric C. Biemiller

Please respect the copyrights.
The chapter links are located at the end of each chapter.
Chapter 17

They sat in the visitor’s gallery; Woodie’s father, his mother, Dr. Bailiff, Emily and Sue. Representative Otten had left them to take his place on the House floor. They looked out over the vast room that had seen so much American history, and knew that the busy men below them were adding to that history, for better or worse, by their daily actions. The voices of great orators had spoken from those seats and somewhere in time their words still rang like silver bells. Wars had been declared there. The best of the nation’s aspirations, and sometimes justice itself had been frozen into laws from that floor.

It was a place that deserved reverence and respect. They sat in the visitor’s gallery and were proud to be Americans.

Dr. Bailiff sat next to Woodie and, without words, nudged his mind.

“Open ever so gently. Absorb bit by bit. Too much at a time would crack your reason. It would be like asking the psychic sounds and shock of a city if you tried it all at once. Little by little until you have as much of the total impression as you want.”

Woodie’s father sat on his other side and his mother leaned across him to speak digging her elbow in his knee a she did so.

“Your father is grumpy. What’s he grumpy about?”

“Me,” said Woodie Junior.

“Oh, dear,” said his mother. “Well, we saw a lot of interesting things. Statues, the rotunda, a ladies room…”

The House was debating a money bill. All so-called appropriations for government expenditures begin in the House. This one concerned another rise in Social Security payments. It was obvious that the bill would pass, and that it involved no strain upon the Membership. Spending money for practically anything at all is one of the House’s most cherished traditions. It ranks second only to the House’s tradition of promising to spend even more money for almost anything.

Woodie let himself wander. He became, bit by bit, a part of the venerable Chamber, a passing part of each Member, one with its earthbound memories, part of its past. He sat silent allowing the minutes to build. And the House became a giant raft plunging down some raging torrent while small human beings fought sweeps to control it as the very banks which still contained the torrent mourned as it passed. He closed the doors of his mind. But before the last one swung tight he thought he heard a whimper from the walls of the Chamber itself as though the country might be crying.

He felt a fleeting touch of comfort from Dr. Bailiff.

“This place depresses me,” said his father.

“That’s because you’re mad at Woodie,” said his mother.

“I am not mad at Woodie. I am not even mad,” said his father.

Not far away from them in the visitor’s gallery, a little old man with gray hair and a wisp of beard left over from a Chinese movie, and a little old lady wearing a purple dress with a button, which said ‘Gray Power’, said “Ssshhh!”

Dr. Bailiff had an appointment. He made his excuses, said that he would see them later, and left. Congressman Morris T. Otten had work to do. He would give them his public relations man’s station wagon with a bright young driver named Marius Scopton to take them sightseeing or any place they cared to go. Marius Scopton was a law student doing his “internship” in Congressman Otten’s office. “A flunky without pay,” he said cheerfully. He came from Blattstown near Marterville. He knew all about Emily.

“I will join you at dinner,” said Congressman Otten. “If you go to the Smithsonian Institution and the Natural History Museum ask for Beesley Carter Canfield, my roommate of many years. He does exhibits, writes learned papers, and may let you play with some old bones.”

“How about the FBI?” asked Sue. “What have you got against cops?”

“I could go to the Smithsonian first, and then take you girls to the FBI,” said Marius helpfully.

“I’m going with Woodie,” said Emily.

“You going to hang around me instead of Tinker?” asked Woodie.

“A girl should have many and varied experiences with different men,” said Emily.

“In that case, I’m going with Emily,” said Sue.

“We are going to the Smithsonian as one, a unit,” said Ballard Kynwood Senior. “I am going to ask for Beesley Canfield. I am going to ask him for a bone. It may curb this urge I have to howl.”

“You sound grumpy, Woodie. Are you grumpy, Woodie?” asked Connie Kynwood.

Beesley Carter Canfield of the Smithsonian Institution was a round man with a round face and a round beard and a squint in his brown eyes that came from looking through magnifying glasses at fossil tracks.

“I have this squint in my eyes that comes from years of looking through magnifying glasses at fossil tracks,” he said.

He was a modern bureaucrat. He wore blue jeans, a faded denim shirt and sneakers. His hands were covered with clay about to turn to dust as it dried.

“I have been duplicating fossil tracks for casts and when I get casts maybe I can create the fins, claws or feet to fit. And when I get the claws, fins or feet maybe I can determine the sort of beast or fish or bird that might have owned them. And when I do that maybe we’ll have an exhibition,” he said.

“That’s real detective work,” said Sue with admiration in her voice. “I love detectives.”

Mr. Canfield was pleased. He preened.

“Well, yes,” he said. “I’m too messy to take you around, and I hate walking anyhow. If you like, I’ll get you a special guide, but then I always feel they talk so much. Why don’t you all just enjoy yourselves on your own, look at the Fenykovi elephant or some Indians?”

“How are you fixed for old bones, Mr. Canfield?” asked Connie Kynwood sweetly. “My husband wants to know.”

“Why? Does he have a fossil dog? Good, eh? A fossil dog?” Beesley laughingly asked. “Well, go along now and get the taste of that Congress out of your mouths. If you want anything, tell anyone that Beesley Carter Canfield said you were to have it. Tell Morris Otten I saw you. He did call to say you were coming, you know. Goodbye.”

“Mr. Kynwood …?”

“Yes, Emily.”

“Why don’t we go look at the Fenykovi elephant?”

“Or some Indians?” asked Woodie.

Emily curtseyed to Woodie and Woodie bowed to Emily and they broke up into laughter. Connie Kynwood curtseyed to Woodie Senior and Woodie Senior bowed to Connie and they laughed and laughed.

“Are they nuts?” asked Marius Scopton.

“Sort of,” said Sue. “It’s a family thing.”

“You mean insanity handed down like?”

“Well, more like dropped.”

“It had better be some kind of an elephant,” said Woodie Senior.

The Fenykovi elephant was and is some kind of an elephant. It is an African bush elephant, the largest on record. When it was hale and on the hoof it weighed twelve tons and measured 13 feet 2 inches at the shoulders. The old tusker was only one of the Smithsonian wonders they saw for the rest of the afternoon in a day suddenly grown brighter and light hearted.

The uplift was still on them when they left the Smithsonian too late to do anything but head for the 16th Street N.W. apartment full of notions for the following day. Even Marius Scopton of Blattstown kept his serenity as he tooled the station wagon through district traffic. The onrushing evening was sunset rose and bland.

“The boy progresses and that which was foretold moves toward its fruiting without change. Is that not so?”

“It is so. But the end is still shrouded for there will be no victory for good if there is only exposure of evil.”

“But first the face of evil must be made plain and the knowledge of evil clear before there is opportunity for good. The forces are still out of balance.”

“There will be a sadness and a shaking in the land.”

“And the stain of universal guilt to harass the future.”

It was mirage weather in the desert, but it was cool and shady where man and piped water had made the oasis called Bermuda Dunes and used it as a golf course. It was cooler off the tee of the 17th hole where transplanted shrubbery huddled beneath palms and a cottonwood or two. There was a golf cart parked there. It held a bag of golf clubs, a thermos jug, two sandwiches in a brown paper bag, and a plaid cap. Their owner lay at ease on an air mattress borrowed from the swimming pool, his eyes fixed on distant desert peaks two of which still held snow. He was a fit man in his late fifties, and his name was on the chairman’s door of the headquarter’s office of an international business a few hundred miles up the California coast. The hard planes of his face seemed relaxed for dreaming. In another hour he would climb aboard a private airplane and fly away from the desert. Meanwhile he Watched.

There was redbud in full flower, some of it already blown. The jonquils and hyacinth had long ago marched north with spring. The air from the pines which surrounded the sanitarium and rest home was heady with pitch. A young woman sat in a wheelchair on a wide expanse of lawn before a white-pillared house, and her hands were folded sedately in her lap beneath a cloud-light lamb’s wool blanket. She was fair and her hair was the color of a roan horse’s mane, and from the waist up she was strong, vigorous and beautifully formed. The light blanket concealed a wasteland from her hips to her feet. She would never walk or move again. But she traveled. Oh, she traveled, and in distances apt for eagles. And she Watched That Which Was to See.

Congressman Otten took them to Georgetown to dinner.

“You’ll like this place,” he said to Connie, Emily and Sue, “all candlelight and history and small portions that cost too much and some cackling female owner whose husband was a famous judge during the Civil War or maybe the Whiskey Rebellion in Washington’s time.

“Most women like Georgetown they say. Narrow streets, remodeled houses which date back to 1492, places with cutesy-wutesy shop names, borrowed graces from better days, antique furniture loaded up on some freighter that docked from Japan last week. Very famous, and very social Georgetown.”

“You make it sound like you couldn’t get a house there,” said Connie Kynwood.

“I don’t get any votes there either,” said Congressman Otten. “And before I forget, the big Beetle will not be with us tonight and he will not be in residence here either. He said he was going to eat hog jowls and caviar elsewhere, that he would see us tomorrow for a spell, and that Woodie Junior should lock up. I don’t know what that means. Just lock up.”

“I know what it means,” said Woodie Junior. “I am thinking about something else. Mother and Dad in the big bedroom where Dr. Bailiff was, Emily and Sue in a room of their own…I guess it’s all right…I thought I might have to bed on the davenport …”

“I’ll come out and keep you company,” said Emily.

“Bring your hockey stick,” said Woodie.

They went to dinner in Georgetown and enjoyed it. From the buzzing scraps of conversion that floated by them in the candlelight one word repeated and repeated. It was Watergate. And every time it was spoken Congressman Otten winced.

“Early days yet, early days,” he said to Woodie Senior. “And already perjury, burglary, illegal wiretapping, destruction of evidence, fraud, extortion, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to commit illegal acts … all charged against associates of the President.”

Woodie Senior’s voice was just loud enough to reach Congressman Otten’s ear and no louder.

“I am frightened for my son, for my wife, and, frankly, for me,” he said. “I have a hunch that we’re involved.”

Congressmen Otten nodded. “For what it’s worth I am frightened for the whole country, and personally so as well.”

“I think they put something in the wax of these candles that makes them stink,” said Sue.

“Smell, dear,” said Connie. “It is a nicer word.”

“What is?” asked Woodie Junior.

“Smell,” said Emily

“Maybe something’s burning in the kitchen,” he said. “Tinker’s father had a fire in that hotel he owns that started with hot grease.”

“He’s going through a phase,” said Woodie’s mother to Emily.

“Who?” asked Woodie Senior.

“Him too,” said Connie Kynwood.

Woodie Junior dreamed that night. He dreamed of hands. They were agile hands that moved and weaved patterns and were a ballet. They were deft hands, flashing hands like a magician’s pouring playing cards like water, taking rabbits from a hat and lifting a dove from a sleeve that flew away. There were crawling hands that crept upon the floor and then scrambled up the wall and over the ceiling and dropped into his head. They were hands, which plucked at his hair and pried into his ears and lifted his eyelids and poked up his nose. They were horrible hands that grew hairy and huge and tried to wrench a skull apart to sift its contents with red, wet fingers. They were seeking hands cracking knuckles in rage and defeat.

Dr. Bailiff’s message had been clear. Lock up, he had said, and Woodie knew what he meant and did so.

He awakened. His forehead was hot and beaded with sweat. And there was Emily with her hockey stick, and his mother and father and Sue ready to blow her police whistle

“I had a bad dream,” he said.

Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Chapter Twenty Three Chapter Twenty Four Chapter Twenty Five Chapter Twenty Six
Chapter Twenty Seven Chapter Twenty Eight Chapter Twenty Nine Chapter Thirty
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